Thursday, April 17, 2008

A Matter of Faith

At Josh Waxman's blog, I found a quote from Shadal relevant to our previous discussion. A skeptic of the Zohar's authenticity is chided by Shadal:

"After the matter is so, behold I choose to believe in the sefer haZohar, such as is the consensus of the majority of the congregation of Israel, and all its Rabbis and its Sages, from the time of its revelation until today. Of their portion should be my portion, and of their lot should be my lot . And you, if you want to cast your lot together with those of little faith, cast it, and who is holding you back?

And while engaged in them, I hurried to enter my house, and I closed the door behind me, and I slept until the light of morning, and I arose in the morning and went to the house of prayer. And when I returned to go to my house, this man attached to me and greeted me.

I said to him: Are you the muddier, who comes to muddy my heart with your doubts? Go in peace, and what is between me and you?

And the man answered and said: I am astounded at your words, my master, and I have heard about you, saying that you are always the lover of truth, and in truth this is not the way of lovers of truth, to berate a person who says things of reason, before you hear his claims.

I answered him: You are not speaking correctly, for even if this is my approach in all matters of understanding, and all my days such was my trait to learn from every man, and to accept words of truth from he who said it, still in things which touch on the matter of the faith, there is no wisdom nor understanding nor counsel opposite Hashem. {A quote from Mishlei 21:30.} And behold, you are to my eyes like an enticer, and the Torah says "you should not consent unto him nor hearken unto him."(See Devarim 13:9) Our Sages have already said not to respond to an Israelite apostateת and certainly one who is extremely skeptical {/irreverent}, and therefore my word is already spoken. My brother, do you wish אo go to the right or to the left? Believe or deny according to all that is good and right in your eyes, but me, why do you call to travel with you?"

Of course our faith should be founded on reason. However, "reasonable" is far more flexible a barometer than "empirically evident". Since the latter cannot be applied to matters of faith, our will ultimately shapes what we reasonably accept in our lives. Although the subject of faith being discussed is different, I have echoed Shadal's words here, where John Wisdom illustrates the situation where empiricism alone will not decide how we interpret the facts and events that we witness. I write:

"It comes down ultimately to will. I cannot 'prove' spiritual matters for proof does not operate in the realm of "why or what" but in the realm of "how" (the realm of science). Therefore ultimately one cannot solely use facts or data to decide whether or not to live a life believing in God. He must rely on his experience. If so, it all comes down to willing oneself to allow experience to help one see God and not brush those experiences off as chance or something irrelevant. This is the idea of "Free Will" in its muted yet most glorious lyric: truly giving Man the opportunity to will himself to do right."